Last week we ran a piece on the place of album art within the digital age, exploring how the desire for album art conflicted with the distaste of having to spend so much time and digital memory space to acquire it. We all agree that it can be painful to ensure our digital library is fully stocked with album art, and so it is worth investigating why it is that we bother to do so. What is it that album art offers a listener?
On a superficial level, like any artwork, album art can simply be visually appealing. Despite the old adage that we should never judge a book, or in this case an album, by its cover, at some point many of us would have done exactly that and purchased an album purely because the cover looked cool. Yet there is more to album covers than simply aesthetics, for they allow artists to draw connections between the artwork and their music and lyrics, a platform upon which the themes underpinning their work can be presented in a uniquely instantaneous medium. To help illustrate this point we’ll examine two contrasting pieces of artwork from blog favourites Caligula’s Horse, beginning with 2013’s concept album The Tide, the Thief and River’s End.
The minimalistic approach features a snowflake as the sole object upon a featureless beige background. The geometric form of snowflakes has been labelled as a symbol of perfection, whilst a belief that no two snowflakes are identical also sees them represent human individuality. Yet despite its perfect symmetry, the cover’s snowflake is also littered with visible imperfections, perhaps hinting that all is not as it seems. When examining the colour scheme, a pure, snow white could easily have been used (indeed, that is likely the first mental image one has of a snowflake) yet here we see cold, metallic shades of blue and grey, a foreshadowing of the album’s inherent darkness. With further thought, the image’s intrinsic duality becomes evident, allowing for clear comparisons with the album’s musical and lyrical content. The ethereal vocals and beautifully soothing melodies fit perfectly with the tranquil image of a snowflake calmly descending from the heavens. Conversely, snowflakes primarily appear in winter and the thought of a particularly cruel, harsh and uncompromising winter can be tied in with the album’s heavier passages and dark lyrical content.
In contrast to the rather minimalist approach seen with The Tide, the cover for 2015’s follow-up Bloom is full of much more obvious symbolism. Indeed, the artwork is almost a visual representation of the track-listing, featuring amongst others blooming marigold flora, dragonflies, a central female figure and a mountain. The female figure demands attention and this, along with the size of the mountain, immediately suggests that ‘Daughter of the Mountain’ is the centerpiece of the album, and at 8 minutes in length it’s easy to see why. The song itself is based on a Japanese myth in which the blossom princess marries a god instead of the stone princess, and thus human life is bright and temporary like the blossom, rather than long and enduring like the stone.
Whilst it’s not a concept album, this theme is one which helps tie the album together. Again we can see both sides of this story represented within the artwork. The beauty of our earthly lives is captured by the vivacious colour scheme, which espouses the effervescent and vibrant qualities of life, words which can just as easily be applied to the album’s music as well. Whilst this marks a strong departure from their previous album, there are still visible links between the two. The shards of stone which comprise the mountain are similar in colour to the snowflake, highlighting that all is not rosy within this setting. There is a sense that the mountain is about to crash upon the princess at any moment, which in conjunction with the setting sun, evokes the other central tenet of the album’s theme, namely the fragility of life and the fact that we are but temporary visitors on this earth.
Despite their opposing approaches, the artwork for both Bloom and its predecessor brilliantly represent the music found within, showcasing that there is more than one way to create meaningful album art. Not only is such artwork visually alluring, it adds a new dimension through which a band can connect with its fans. Album art is unmistakably important, and it remains relevant even in an increasingly digital age. Long may it continue.